Smart Motors: How one auto dealership is responding to a recent rash of thefts

MADISON, WI – It may sound odd, but there is a strange crime wave happening across the U.S. Catalytic converters, which help reduce an automobile’s emission pollution, are being stolen out from under our very noses…and cars.

Nationwide, police are reporting a surge in cases. In St. Louis, catalytic converter thefts jumped more than eightfold, from 50 in 2019 to 420 last year. In Lexington, S.C., sheriffs’ deputies responded to 144 catalytic converter thefts between July and December, triple the number of cases over the year-earlier period.

In Wisconsin, West Allis police finally nabbed one thief just last month, while statewide hundreds of the converters were reported stolen in 2020 and the trend isn’t slowing down.

So why is this specific car part being targeted? Because each catalytic converter contains metals that are more precious than gold. And it only takes a saw and three minutes to poach one. 

Catalytic converters are made with palladium and rhodium. The price of palladium hit a record of $2,875 an ounce last year Rhodium prices have skyrocketed to a record $21,900 an ounce this year, roughly 12 times the price of gold.

After the thief cuts away a converter, he/she takes it to a recycler and earns roughly $120 per unit. The victim of the theft is left paying an estimated $1,200 for a replacement.

“Priuses are often targeted,” says Jake Schafer, service director at Smart Motors in Madison. It’s probably due to the fact that a Prius ‘converter contains more precious metals than what is installed in most vehicles. When all is said and done, though, it can cost the victim upwards $2,500 to have a Prius converter replaced.”

Schafer says the dealership is currently replacing dozens of catalytic converters each month due to theft, but Smart Motors is being proactive by working with a manufacturer that supplies anti-theft protection.

“We’ve invested in a catalytic converter protection system with Cat Security,” he says. “We will professionally install their ‘Cat Shield,’ which is a sturdy aluminum plate that provides a barrier against theft.”

According to the Cat Security website (, there are four main reasons to have an anti-theft plate installed:

1.      Save on the potential loss of time and money.

2.      Put your mind at ease knowing your car is protected.

3.      Help put thieves out of business.

4.      Improve your vehicle’s underbody aerodynamics (the plate may actually help improve fuel mileage).

“The plate usually costs a few hundred dollars with installation,” says Schafer, “but it’s a small price to pay for protecting yourself from inconvenience and perhaps thousands of dollars if you fall victim to this very prevalent crime.”

About Smart Motors

Smart Motors was founded in 1908 by O.D. Smart and is one of the nation’s oldest automotive dealerships, is the mid-west’s largest hybrid dealer and Wisconsin’s #1 volume Toyota dealer. Located at 5901 Odana Road, Smart Motors is Wisconsin’s only two-time President’s Cabinet Award recipient from Toyota Motor Sales for superior customer service & sales volume.  For more information visit